At our Storehouse, there is an involuntary sense of Us and Them. We are the ones welcoming Them into the place. We are the ones with the hygiene and food items. They are the ones who need them, and last Thursday, there were 116 of Them.
We are constantly working against this notion which would separate Us from Them. We smile. We say our names and we use Their names. A lot of information, some of it deeply personal, is shared between us. At times, and in appropriate ways, We give a kind touch to Them, whether guiding Them through the Storehouse or in prayer. It’s our constant effort to demonstrate oneness in the Storehouse between clients and volunteers.
Because, the possible message at the second level of separation, the deeper one, is ugly. An outsider looking in can almost always tell a client from a volunteer. We are clean and have a healthy hygiene. We wear recently washed clothes and some may even be expensive. Our hair is combed, brushed, and possibly coiffed, maybe to impress, but, at the least, to not offend. Our language and use of humor may indicate a good or broad education.
The human heart beating in a broken, sin-stained world cannot escape measuring and ordering. We do it all the time with things. Kohls is better than Walmart. A Lexus is better than a Honda. Our hearts also do this with people. We can’t help ourselves. It's part of the human condition. It is better to be in clean clothes than not. It’s better to smell good than bad. It’s better to be entertained by any one of the CSI police dramas than the drama of the Jerry Springer show.
The broken human heart may even beat with the message that it’s better to be one of Us than one of Them. And worse, is the possible thought that any given Us is better, or a better person, than any given Them.
The reason this is on my heart is because I strained a muscle in my back four weeks ago. It’s completely healed. But, as my chiropractor, Dr. Josi Owens, explained, it ticked off some conditions in my lumbar region that had already existed for some time. This resulted in an irritated sciatic nerve on my right side. The most excruciating pain I’ve ever known radiated down from my hip to the top of my foot. On a pain scale where 9 is “I know you’re talking but I can’t process what you’re saying,” and 10 is “I am completely unaware of my surroundings” I reached 8 a couple of times. A steroid shot, muscle relaxers, and a borrowed TENS unit could only do so much and last week I was in the Conway Regional Physical Therapy Unit. After evaluation, my therapist wanted to schedule 8 sessions.
One of the results of my sciatic nerve having overstimulated my leg muscles is I have what is commonly known as foot-drop. The muscle in my shin responsible to raise my foot so I could tap it along with good music just won’t work and I’ve been walking with a slight limp.
When I found out how much physical therapy would cost out of pocket, since I have a $6400 deductible and haven’t yet made a dent in, I realized I might walk with a limp the rest of my life.
Suddenly, I discovered how quickly anyone can jump from Us, to Them.
Our clients have all kinds of physical and mental ailments. Many of them walk with noticeable discomfort. A lot of them are missing teeth. At one time, it could have all been fixed. Enough physical therapy, the work of a good dentist, and people can overcome, at least on the outside, what’s visible, a lot of traumatic experiences.
Why didn’t they? “Them” didn’t have the opportunities and resources “Us” did.
It can happen so easily. For example, each year in Arkansas, there are four to five thousand children in foster care. What happens when a foster child turns 18 years old? The foster family stops receiving benefits, and some of those foster children are forced to leave their homes. They are suddenly homeless.
You know, there is a deepest level, of the notion of separation between Us and Them, and it’s terrifying. Believers hold myriad beliefs about the grace and blessings of God and how material things fit into it all and the book of Job is unsettling.
Remember, Job was a good guy with everything a good guy could hope for in the material world. Then God gave satan permission to mess things up and Job lost everything, even his health. Then his friends show up and a deep debate ensues regarding whether Job really was a good dude and if it was possible he brought everything on himself. In the end, God shows up and straightens Job out and then, in my broken heart’s opinion, the best part of the story happens.
Job gets everything and more back. Because God loved him.
The most insidious thread of the Us and Them is how confused we can be about God’s favor. Is it an obvious sign God’s favor rests on Us because we’re clean and smell good and we’re skilled and happy-hearted? Is it also an obvious sign God’s favor does not rest on Them because they aren’t? May Jesus help us not to weigh a person's goodness or God's favor on the amount of suffering They experience. God works in ways we can't possibly understand.
It’s as subtle as a wink, but it’s oh so important in the way we approach and serve and love on Them.
Our pantry is desperate for proteins such as canned meats and peanut butter. Also, canned pasta, pasta sauce, chili, soups, and beanie weanies. Cereal and hamburger helper remain our two most chosen items from the grains sections and we are out of the later and close to being out of the former.
Finally, I want to say this year for Christmas, Jesus is giving the city of Conway the People that He Loves. The Them of our community are His gift to you. I implore you to cherish them, in any way you can, like you will the gift you have actually asked Santa to bring you.
If you are a consistent reader of the Storehouse blog, then you probably know my deep affection for numbers. So, please, allow me to dazzle you with a few.
In October, we served 439 families in five shopping days. The first four averaged 100. Then we served 39 on Halloween night. We will only open on three Thursdays in November because the last Thursday is Thanksgiving. If all 439 families want to come again in November, in our three weeks, we’d serve 146 or so each week. I can’t imagine.
This week it was just 102. Just. Sheesh.
You’d think, under the crush of so many people, we’d lose IT. By IT, I mean the “thing” we’ve got that keeps people coming. And as I’ve written several times, that “thing” is the grace of Jesus.
Grace is giving others what they haven’t earned; what they could never earn. That’s what we’re striving for from the front door to the back. No matter how many clients come. No matter how they behave or their demeanor.
For many of us, gifting clients with grace is become routine. It’s the very reason we come. We look forward to the next opportunity to show it. Our language for that is "loving on people." We love on people, that's what we DO.
I had the opportunity to see serving in the Storehouse through brand new eyes this week. Our volunteer, Kathy, who has volunteered in the Ministry Center for five years, just began serving in the Storehouse. She’s done a little case management for us in the past, so I didn’t think she’d have any trouble stepping into the Storehouse. But there is a small learning curve. And she pointed that out to me in a text she sent after we served.
Hey Mike, I just wanted to let you know that I really enjoyed serving along side of y'all on Thursday. In the beginning, hiding out in kitchen sounded really good. Then when I started as a personal shopper, I thought oh no, with my anxiety level, will I be able to wait patiently while someone is taking their time shopping. Then the children came in. Only my dear friends know about how the little people calm me. So, the Lord showed me to treat every one of those clients as His children. Anytime you need help I'll be available on Thursdays.
This is the goal of the entire Ministry Center, whether we are working with a client in case management, or receiving guests in our warming station, or serving hungry families in the Storehouse.
To treat every person as one of His children.
How could our homes, our churches, our schools, our city, change when everyone who knows Jesus makes this their goal?
Well, I can tell you one way things change. Lots and lots and lots of people will show up to receive that treatment. They’ll come over and over.
So get ready.
In closing, I’d just like to thank everyone who is supporting our clients through bringing food to the Storehouse. One of our city’s churches will bring us food from their drive over the past two weeks. Last year, it was 880 pounds! What a difference two weeks makes!
Please do what you can to help our clients, from prayer to donations and everything in between.
We had our final EVENING serve in 2019 on Thursday. But that was not the only unique thing about that night. It was the fifth week to serve in the month. We had already provided food and hygiene for 400 families, 90 of those new to the pantry. It was also Halloween night, much colder than usual, and darker, since we’re a month closer to the Solstice.
But the most unique thing about that evening was that only four of our regular volunteers showed up. I had asked the rest to stay home not only because it was Halloween and they might have other obligations, but also because the girls’ softball team from Central Baptist College came and volunteered.
Here’s how that came about. A CBC student named Bri interned with us a couple semesters ago. She plays softball for CBC and wanted to get her team involved in what we do at the Ministry Center. A year later, she introduced me to her coach through email. A month ago, the two of them came to see what an evening serve looks like. Bri had to leave, but her coach was able to stay and we were so grateful. She stayed and volunteered that night bagging groceries, praying with clients, and loving on people. When it was over, she was hooked.
Last night, the entire team came. Three were in Dalmatian puppy costumes. They arrived earlier than normal, met the four regular volunteers and learned how we operate in the Storehouse. And the Holy Spirit came with them. They were smart and eager to learn. They all wanted to be as helpful as possible.
After tutorials, we got into our team meeting and I had my first wave of fear. We’ve had young volunteers, but we’d never had a volunteer crew of entirely young girls. They were all cute and charming. Some of our clients don’t know boundaries as well as others. How would I protect all these young women while they served our clients? It was clear I wouldn’t. I don’t protect our adult volunteers. Someone else has that job, and like I said, He came in with them.
I take that back. My first wave of fear showed up on Monday. What if no one comes? Was there a person left in Faulkner County that knows we have a pantry and hasn’t already been served? Would anyone come out on Halloween night in the cold and dark?
My fears were somewhat relieved when I was approached by one of our regular clients a few hours before we opened. He’s old and thin with a frail, squeaky voice. He asked if we were going to open at 4:30. When I said we were, he mentioned that he’d have to wait a few minutes. It was only 1:30, so I told him it would be a few hours. But he planned to come.
"Okay, we’ll have one client," I thought.
In team meeting, I wasn’t sure if we’d have more than one. I explained the entire reason we have a pantry at the Ministry Center is to get to love on and offer dignity to a marginalized population. I couldn’t tell by the looks on their faces if they understood what I was saying. We talked about grocery limits and being firm with clients even if their chins quivered. We talked about safety especially with the prayers because some clients like to touch and even hug a volunteer during or after prayers.
Then we stood, held hands, and I asked if someone would pray. One of the puppies prayed. She was also a volunteer who chose to pray with clients.
I went back to the cold food room several times to take pictures of our guests serving our clients. I was so amazed at their maturity and tenderness with our people. Especially the prayers. “Can I pray with you before you go? Is there something specific you’d like me to pray about?” I could tell they’d been trained by our volunteer Maria. As I listened to them pray, I heard them speaking the language of knowing Jesus.
It was obvious, in every volunteer/client interaction that these young women had understood exactly what I was talking about in team meeting. Each one offered love and dignity to our clients that night, just like we do every Thursday.
As it turned out, we had 39 clients. One of the last ones brought five or six children with her. They had the best time playing with our young volunteers.
After our last client was served, the volunteers pitched in to help count remaining items. They also boxed up the unchosen items, which was a huge amount, and weighed them out.
Finally it was time for the group picture. The definition of irony ? Our intern,Bri, wasn’t in the group; she’d had to work that night. As I snapped the last picture of the night, I felt the weight of what had happened in the Storehouse in the last three hours. Several of these girls live in different states. In four years, it’s possible that none of them will live in Conway. But they will take with them a vision and impression of our clients. They will have in their hearts exactly what it means to give food and dignity and grace to another person in the name of Jesus. That’s going wherever they are going.
Jordon, the coach of the team, said she’d like to do this every year in October. It’s also possible that we can set up a table at one of their home games and introduce ourselves to new friends at City of Colleges Park this spring.
All this because an intern fell in love with the Ministry Center last year.
Who knew? Well…I think we know.
I am the Storehouse Director and get the privilege of writing about the people that Jesus loves.
Contact Mike Rush at email@example.com for all things "Volunteer".
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